Correction to This Article
A correction to this column incorrectly described former Washington Redskins quarterback Eddie LeBaron as a sergeant major during his Marine Corps service in the Korean War, as did the column. He was a second lieutenant when he was wounded in action, as the correction said, but he retired as a major and not, as the correction said, a sergeant major.

The column said that Eddie LeBaron was a sergeant major in the Marine Corps when he was injured during the Korean War. LeBaron retired as a sergeant major, but he was a second lieutenant when he was injured.

Former Redskins quarterback Eddie LeBaron counts his blessings

Eddie LeBaron, flanked by Sammy Baugh, left, and then-coach Curly Lambeau, signed with the Redskins shortly after his discharge from the Marines. He made $9,500 his first year back from Korea.
Eddie LeBaron, flanked by Sammy Baugh, left, and then-coach Curly Lambeau, signed with the Redskins shortly after his discharge from the Marines. He made $9,500 his first year back from Korea. (Associated Press)
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By Mike Wise
Thursday, November 12, 2009

The old combat Marine picked up the telephone Tuesday night at home in Sacramento and went back. Way back.

Before many of us were born. Before Iraq, Afghanistan or even Vietnam, to an oft-forgotten battlefield called Punchbowl.

A recessed valley sunk beneath the jagged hills separating North and South Korea, Punchbowl was where the combat Marine, because of casualties, became a senior platoon commander at 21. His job meant advancing north, through the valley.

"The gunfire, well, it didn't get real bad until we got up the hill," Eddie LeBaron said. "I wasn't hit there; I was lucky. Because there were many soldiers who didn't make it out of Punchbowl."

The combat Marine eventually became known as a quarterback for the Washington Redskins in the 1950s. After that he was Tom Landry's first quarterback in Dallas, Don Meredith's mentor. In 2002, he was named one of the 70 greatest Redskins of all time.

Eddie LeBaron, 79 this Veterans Day, became a lot of things in life after the Korean conflict.

He was a four-time Pro Bowler, still listed as the shortest quarterback to play in the all-star game -- "Shortest quarterback to ever play, I think," he deadpanned through the phone.

He was a corporate attorney, he finished law school at George Washington and passed the California bar exam in 1959, his final year with the Redskins. "Both our halfbacks were in medical school at the time," he said.

Years ago, as a representative for the players' union, he convinced then-NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle of the need for player pensions. He was general manager of the Atlanta Falcons in the 1970s and ran the NFL's strike games in 1987, essentially so the commissioner didn't have to take the heat.

Now, six decades after his military service, he can't quite get his head around how his first Redskins season at Griffith Stadium turned out to be Sammy Baugh's last. Or how his first year at the College of the Pacific became the last for legendary coach Amos Alonzo Stagg, then 86. How a fortunate man happened to intersect with history.

Three children. Five grandchildren. Good health. Golf.

"Sometimes it feels like an accident, sometimes it doesn't," he said.


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